By Lance Knobel and Emilie Raguso
Berkeley’s annual crime report shows a one-year increase of 11% in violent and property crimes in 2012. The uptick comes after four consecutive years of lowered crime, as measured by the Uniform Crime Reports’ so-called Part I crimes.
But Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told the City Council, during a work session on the crime report Tuesday night, that it’s important to keep these numbers in perspective. [See the PDF presentation from the work session here.]
“The numbers are down quite a bit in the longer term,” he said, adding later that the city’s crime rate is “about as low as it’s been since the early 1960s.” Following increases in the ’80s and ’90s, crime rates have been on the decline overall.
Meehan said data-driven strategies, a focus on chronic offenders and new community engagement efforts were among the tactics his department used in 2012 to fight crime.
The bulk of Berkeley’s increase came in larceny reports, which include petty theft, grand theft and auto burglary. There were 4,102 larceny reports in Berkeley in 2012, up from 3,458 in 2011 — a 18.6% increase. The total recorded violent crime numbers were largely unchanged from 2011, but the number of reported rapes in Berkeley increased dramatically: up from 20 in 2011 to 39 in 2012, a 95% leap. Homicides, too, were up sharply, with five after a somewhat anomalous low mark of one in 2011. (Click the bar graphs in this story to access an interactive graphic with all the data in the report.)
Tuesday, police and council members pointed to a new online crime reporting system in Berkeley that makes it easier to let authorities know about certain types of incidents, and may have contributed to the increase in property crime numbers.
Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he’d used the system to report a cell phone theft.
“If not for the online reporting system, I wouldn’t have bothered reporting it,” he said. “I always tell my constituents to use it.”
Robbery and burglary reports remained relatively flat in 2012. There were 334 robberies, down six from 2011, and 968 burglaries, also down six. Police Capt. Erik Upson told the council that this was “in defiance of regional trends” that show these numbers on the rise in many surrounding areas.
The Berkeley Police Department had set a goal of a 5% reduction in Part I crimes in 2012 but, according to the report, “recognized the unprecedented decline from the previous year might not continue.”
In 2011, Part I crimes had declined 14%, with violent crime down 9% and property crime down 15%. Even with the increase in crime last year, total violent and property crime in Berkeley is down 20% since 2007.
There have been arrests in three of the five Berkeley homicides in 2012. Investigations into the other two — the killing of Kenneth Warren on Jan. 26 and of Pamela Mullins on Dec. 4 — are still open, and $15,000 rewards have been offered in each for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects.
On the increase in reported rapes, the 2012 crime report states that “stranger rapes are a rare occurence in Berkeley.” Because of the increase since 2011, officers “began conducting additional sexual assault awareness and prevention training.”
Several council members expressed concern about the increase in rape reports. Councilman Gordon Wozniak called the rise “disconcerting,” and said the issue needed “some special effort.” Councilwoman Linda Maio asked if police could help “figure out an educational strategy” to help remind community members that most rapes are committed by acquaintances, and that many involve drugs or alcohol. Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said the department could help put relevant information together for outreach.
Councilman Max Anderson said he appreciated the department’s willingness to look at best practices, but that he’d like to see the department dig deeper into the analytics. He also said community members need to remember to take “precautionary measures,” such as locking their doors and windows, to diminish the chance that thieves will target them.
Other council members said, in the future, they’d like to see more information on victim demographics, more detail about crime hot spots and more data related to arrest rates.
During the public comment period, one neighborhood group, as part of a 12-minute presentation, submitted a list of recommendations they said they believe would free up police resources for more proactive work. One of the recommendations involved requiring alarm companies to verify the presence of an intruder prior to police involvement. Pat Mapps, a community representative involved with the effort, said other cities have taken that step, as the vast majority of alarm calls turn out to be nothing. Council members said the recommendations seemed promising, and they looked forward to considering the ideas in more depth.
Councilwoman Susan Wengraf noted that she’s held a number of safety meetings in her district following a “surge of crime” in the Berkeley hills. Despite the rise, she said many residents have expressed reticence to call police to report suspicious activity.
“They just don’t like to call the police,” she said. “I have urged them: The police need your help.”
The Police Department’s crime report cites a number of strategies and tactics designed to lower Berkeley’s crime rates, and credits them with reducing burglary and robbery rates. They include:
- Multiple weekly crime analysis and response strategies meetings
- Robbery Suppression Teams: Data-driven and specifically focused teams working in partnership with the University of California Police Department (UCPD) to reduce street robberies
- South Side Safety Patrols: A partnership with the UCPD designed to address on-going crime and community issues in the South Campus area
- Initial implementation of a Crisis Intervention Team: A program designed to improve safety for the public, mental health consumers and officers which offers the potential to prevent crime
- Telegraph Avenue Patrol (TAP): A joint UCPD/BPD patrol covering the areas of Telegraph Avenue and People’s Park
- Identification and focus on chronic offenders
Big declines in violent and property crime in Berkeley [03.07.12]
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